Building a Better Ecosystem: The Power of Unexpected Connections

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Every founder is wonderfully unique because of their background, their current projects and their goals. This diversity of factors also means that every founder has a unique set of resource needs that evolve throughout their entrepreneurial journey. 

At the startup phase, for example, a founder may have greater needs around developing a business model and legal formation while access to venture capital and licensing expertise may be more relevant for growth-stage founders of companies in certain industries. Many programs that are designed to help entrepreneurs often have a one-size-fits-all approach, which is more work for the founder to figure out what they need. 

Here are a few ways we’re trying to connect the dots to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, so we bridge the gaps that often go unnoticed beneath traditional methods.

Rethinking Traditional Resources

The most common solution to the needs of entrepreneurs is to create resource lists (lots of resource lists). But navigating these can be overwhelming, especially when resources have timelines, eligibility requirements and costs. Curators often struggle to keep their lists current as new resources emerge and many popular offerings like small business grants or topical events have finite application periods with irregular availability. And, ultimately, there is always going to be a gap between the generalized nature of a list and the unique needs of a specific founder—whether that is around a market niche, cultural nuance or breakthrough technology. 

Another common solution is to create a business incubator that can supplement that resource list with classes, mentorship and sometimes even a dedicated pool of funding for participants. While this certainly is more comprehensive, no incubator (or any organization for that matter) can meet every founder’s need throughout their entire entrepreneurial journey. 

Incubators can work well for some entrepreneurs developing general skills around customer discovery and validation, or fine-tuning a go-to-market strategy. They often struggle, however, to scale support to meet the full demand from a community–especially when it comes to specialized needs, such as advanced technologies, niche industry or market expertise, as well as language and schedule. Resources, after all, are limited for organizations as well as entrepreneurs.

In reality, entrepreneurship is a community-wide effort. A variety of people and organizations need to contribute in different ways and at different points for the successful launch, growth, and innovation of a venture. But, just as no single list can relay the totality of resources and opportunities available in a community, neither can any single person or organization. 

The key to learning about and accessing this “ecosystem” of resources is to build diverse connections across the community, including fellow founders, resource providers and supporters.

Making Connections in the Phoenix Metro Area 

In the past, making connections required being part of the right social club, going to the right school or working at the right tech company. Over the last 10 years, however, a variety of entrepreneurship meetups, events and wayfinding services have emerged as “onramps” to help founders navigate and connect with the ecosystem. 

Within the greater Phoenix ecosystem, popular examples include: 

The greater Phoenix ecosystem is particularly well-known for being welcoming and eager to help new entrepreneurs get connected. Before reaching out, however, it is helpful for founders to be able to succinctly share what they are working on and to have a clear ask for how people can help. This can help make a memorable impression and focus their attention on making helpful connections rather than asking a litany of clarifying follow-up questions. Ideally, this elevator pitch should be tailored to the audience, so prepare a number of variations in advance. 

Need assistance with crafting these pitches? Check out the article, How Can I Optimize My Pitch?, from the Edson E+I Institute. 

It is also important to keep in mind that giving back is what allows the entrepreneurial ecosystem to function. Fellow founders and supports openly share their connections and lessons learned because others have likewise been so generous. Carefully listening as others share is the first step and helping where possible after that is essential. Lending a hand at community events is also a great way to support the ecosystem–especially for newer founders who may feel like they have yet to build many connections or lessons to share. 

Keep in mind that the ecosystem is always a work in progress and there are bound to be resource gaps. And, it is well-known that founders are highly resourceful and often resort to “boot-strapping” to build their own solutions when encountering these gaps. The other key benefit of the ecosystem, however, is having a whole community of founders and supporters to collaborate with on solutions that can benefit everyone. So, rather than get frustrated or go it alone, help convene collaborators to brainstorm ideas, test potential solutions and iterate!

Two people standing next to each other smiling and holding a large check for the Edson E+I Venture Challenge
Entrepreneurs Rubin Trujillo and Jackie Cedillo, winners of the Edson E+I Venture Challenge

Making unexpected connections is a valuable byproduct of tapping into an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Two founders in the West Valley exemplify this.

Jackie and Ruben started their entrepreneurial ventures from two different on-ramps. Ruben started his venture, Cafe Emporos, in 2020 after finding massive success with TikTok. He was plugged into the Venture Devils community as well as Peoria Forward. Ruben has always been driven to support and encourage other entrepreneurs in the ecosystem while chasing his own dream. Ready to take Cafe Emporos to the next level, Ruben applied for the Peoria Forward Venture Challenge. After making it through the first round of judging, Ruben made it to the final five to pitch for his shot at $15,000.

Enter Jackie. Jackie heard about another ecosystem onramp, Pitch In, through Instagram. She immediately began attending Pitch In events after starting her venture, Luna Rose Shoppe, just seven short months ago. After attending multiple sessions, she was inspired to apply for the inaugural Peoria Forward Venture Challenge. She made it to the final 5 and pitched for her chance at up to $15,000.

Ruben and Jackie met at the Peoria Forward Venture Challenge Pitch + Celebration where they became co-winners and both walked away with $7,500 each to accelerate their ventures.

That’s when the real connection began. In just the two short months since they met at the Peoria Forward Venture Challenge Pitch + Celebration, they have been each other’s biggest cheerleaders. Both sat on the Innovation Night ecosystem builder panel in November 2023, they have promoted each other’s businesses through social media and word of mouth, talked about ways they can partner to co-create and innovate within their ventures, and most recently, Ruben was invited to be a VIP at TikTok and Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s “In the Mix” global event in Mesa, AZ, and invited Jackie to be his guest. The two made connections with other TikTokers who are promoting their ventures and have plans to collaborate in the future. Jackie and Ruben are the definition of ecosystem champions.

Five people standing next to each other smiling at a concert at night with a large crowd behind them
Jackie Cedillo, Rubin Trujillo and friends at a concert

Contributing and Collaborating to Benefit All

As you forge ahead in building your business, remember that your experiences can be a valuable lesson for others, just as you learn from those around you. Three ways to add to the ecosystem are:

1. Connect with a variety of people throughout the community
2. Stack resources from a variety of partners
3. Give back and co-create solutions to fill gaps

At Edson E+I, we’re all about encouraging our community—locally and globally—to work together and create a better environment for everyone in the entrepreneurial journey. Together, we can make a meaningful impact. If you’re looking to find new ways to make connections, get plugged in and make connections at one of our Edson E+I events this year.

Eric Heimbecker

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